New rule allows TV cameras, electronic devices in Utah courtrooms

Published: Monday, Nov. 19 2012 4:17 p.m. MST

In this file photo, reporters hold up signs at the Frank E. Moss Federal Courthouse after it was announced that the jury in the Brian David Mitchell Trial reached a guilty verdict. On Monday, November 19, 2012, The Utah Judicial Council passed a rule that will allow television cameras and electronic devices into courtrooms.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's courts moved "into the next era" Monday after the Utah Judicial Council passed a rule that will allow television cameras and electronic devices into courtrooms.

"This rule change is going to substantially open the courts," Utah State Courts spokeswoman Nancy Volmer said.

Nine of the 12 voting members of the council present Monday voted to pass the new rule concerning video cameras. Three were opposed to the changes, and one voting member was absent.

A second vote on the use of other electronic devices passed unanimously.

The changes carry the presumption that electronic media coverage will be allowed in all courtroom settings, including the silent use of electronic devices such as cellphones, laptops and tablets, as well as the presence of a TV photographer.

The rules will go into effect April 1, 2013.

There was some discussion on the rules, first proposed and passed in April, before they were put to a vote.

Tim Shea, staff attorney for the Utah State Courts, said it "would be the right of someone to possess (electronic devices) and use them," but they must be silent and could not be used in a judge's chambers. They also would be subject to the terms of use as set out by a district's presiding judge, Shea said.

Individual judges also will be able to limit or restrict the use of electronic devices, but they could do so only after explaining their rationale, either orally or in writing.

Two of the judges who voted against the rule change, 3rd District Court Judge Paul Maughan and 4th District Court Judge David Mortensen, questioned the presumption of the use of electronic devices.

"It's like you're taking away the control of the courtroom at the whim of the media," Maughan said. "I don't mind there being a presumption, but let that be the judge's decision instead of the media."

Second District Judge Glen Dawson also voted against the rules.

Utah Supreme Court Justice Jill Parrish defended the presumption of electronic media coverage, saying it is important in "moving us into the next era." Parrish also said it was a fundamental part of the proposed rules.

"We need to have the presumption or we could have judges deny it for no reason at all," she said. "At that point, we have no rule at all. We have each judge doing as he or she pleases."

Utah Court of Appeals Judge Gregory Orme pointed out that it's "very easy to overcome the presumption," as long as judges are willing to explain why they feel it's important to impose restrictions.

"I think it strikes a nice balance," Orme said.

The April 1 implementation will allow for time to notify media outlets and judges about the changes.

The ability of television media to record proceedings would be done with a pool photographer with the same parameters currently in place for still photography in the state's appellate courts. TV cameras already are allowed in the Utah Supreme Court and Utah Court of Appeals.

Utah now joins at least 37 other states that allow some form of video recording during court proceedings.

Currently, judges can choose to restrict recording of themselves, witnesses, minors and court documents that may not have been submitted into the court record. The rule also allows them to "terminate or suspend electronic media coverage at any time without prior notice if the judge finds that continued electronic media coverage is no longer appropriate."

While only media outlets can request to take video or audio recordings, the use of electronic devices is open to the general public.

"The council has realized we live in an electronic age," Volmer said.

However, the devices may not be used to record court proceedings. Potential jurors are also prohibited from using them to research the case they are involved in and cannot use them once selected as a juror.

The decision followed recommendations from a study committee and public comment on the proposal.

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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